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“Secrets are generally terrible. Beauty is not hidden–only ugliness and deformity.” ~ L.M. Montgomery

After discovering another case of sexual abuse, I quickly run through the natural gamut of thoughts and feelings: from anger and shock to deep sorrow and anguish. And then just as quickly my mind focuses on one word: secrets.

So often I hear statements such as “why didn’t she tell someone?” or “he (the child) loved spending time with him (the perpetrator), if he was being abused why would he keep going back?” And the one I find most frustrating : “where was the mother?”

And the answer to all of these statements and so many more can be summed up in one word: secrets.

For a perpetrator to be successful, he has to keep his motivations and behaviors a secret. From the child (in the beginning) to the community, to those in authority and most importantly to the mother, the perpetrator hides behind secrecy. He or she does not wear red flags pointing to himself as a perpetrator.  He has to keep it a secret.

So why does a child not tell that she is being abused? Why isn’t the child willing to expose the ugliness and deformity she feels after being sexually abused? Sadly each child has her own thought process for isolating and keeping that secret deep inside her.

Family legacy often plays a huge part in not revealing sex abuse.  Unfortunately some families have a history of thinking the child has more knowledge of sexuality than is possible for a child, therefore the child may be punished for ‘having sex with Uncle Henry”. Some families have a history of believing that Uncle Henry is incapable of harming anyone, especially a child, and all too often the community upholds Uncle Henry as a hero. Some families have a history , and sadly, a very long history, of passive acceptance that “its in the family why make a big deal of it?” Still, all these family legacies can be summed up in one word: secrets.

For even though the family legacies mentioned above are acceptable within the family, the family has innate knowledge that the legacy must remain hidden within the family’s history. And this is a history lesson the child is indoctrinated into from birth.

So again, why does a child not tell? Perhaps there are other factors, such as fear of breaking up the family, or upsetting mom, or fear of the perpetrators admonitions to “not tell or else…”  And perhaps the child is not yet ready to deal with his secret.

We must keep in mind that whatever reason a child has for not telling is valid for that child in that moment in time. And when the child does finally share, we must give her the respect and dignity she needs and deserves. Focusing on why she didn’t tell is more for our benefit and curiosity than hers. And the question itself often leads to the child feeling as if she was complicit with the perpetrator. Instead, we must help her to reconnect to her sense of  beauty and help her set it free from the ugliness of the perpetrator’s actions. It truly is time to focus our efforts on removing the perpetrators ability to create and hide behind more secrecy, it is time to punish the perpetrator’s ugliness and deformity.

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  1. munguimaa

    If I could respectfully make a suggestion, I would say to make your post more gender inclusive. You only address the child as a “she” when both men and women endure this. I think its important for anyone reading this to be able to relate, using she, only allows for women to relate. These are just my thoughts and dont mean to offend your post in any way!

  2. Karenat15

    Secrets… and complicity. I hear the word ‘secret’ now and I get it. But I didn’t get it then, even though I was 15, not 5 or 7 or some age when I think I supposed it was OK to have been duped by a predator. I don’t want to speak for Jamie but I am remembering both of us telling our stories and having no clue at the time that this was about abuse. Jamie’s Mom set him straight; my first clue was an article in Newsweek around 1984 (when I was about 30) which was in early days of the media even talking about the topic of child sexual abuse. And part of the discussion, part of the ‘argument’ that it couldn’t be true, was that no one could believe a child would not tell.

    But a child, even a teenager like myself, doesn’t understand this is abuse. Doesn’t understand that an adult, an adult who purports to love and care for this child, could mean harm. I’m an ‘old lady’, 58, and I didn’t really explore my abuse at 15 until I was about 50. I’ve spoken before about being shocked at the impact it had my self-worth. I very recently was triggered by some of the postings on this site and wrote the following in my journal:

    ‘ There is a particular evil to childhood sexual abuse that adds to a lingering shame, a lingering sense of being bad, for me. It is that sense of complicity. My abuser openly verbalized the complicity ‘Do not tell anyone about this; we love each other, they will not understand, they will not let us be together, they will separate us. Do not say anything; be quiet unless I ask you to answer. Do not in any way contact me or my wife/family. If you do, that is the end, no discussion.’

    And, implicitly, ‘if you are quiet and if you follow my rules, I will spend time with you, I will love you, I will be proud of you, I will take care of you.’ And these are all things I wanted. And so I was quiet – and therefore in my mind I was complicit. And it created this sickening bundle of emotions – doing things with him that felt wrong wrapped up in fear of not following his rules – and losing the things I thought it was all about – love and acceptance. And so it became about me – about the bad person that I was – and not at all about the perpetrator.

    Final thoughts – I was 15, I was a very smart (precocious) girl. I did not come from a ‘bad background’ – I came from a very stable and ultimately loving household. But it was a very rigid and non-emotional household and one that left me craving love and acknowledgment. A predator found me – very methodically.

    Kids don’t tell; teens don’t tell – because we have no idea of what is being done to us. We all want normal human interactions, we have normal needs to be understood, to be loved, to have connections. As adults we all know we screw this up at times; as kids, we only know what we need and we rely on adults to provide this, appropriately. The sad news is, many adults do not understand appropriate, do not understand responsibility.